Yemeni troops shot dead four protesters Sunday as they attempted to block a new bid by activists to bring 10 months of protests against veteran President Ali Abdullah Saleh to a head.
Witnesses say snipers on rooftops opened fire on the crowd of tens of thousands of protesters marching to call for Saleh’s resignation while pro-Saleh Republican Guard units lobbed tear gas and hunted down protesters.
Sunday's violence comes a day after security forces fired on a massive rally of some 300,000 people in Sana’a, killing at least 12 protesters dead and wounding 300.
The protesters, who have been camped out in Sana’s Change Square, were trying to march to al-Qaa Street, within a kilometer (less than a mile) of the presidential palace, when the security forces intervened.
“We have four dead protesters and many others wounded,” said Tarek Noman, a doctor at a makeshift field hospital set up by the protesters in Change Square.
Saturday’s bloodshed had come when hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on al-Zubeiri Street which marks the dividing line between parts of the capital held by troops loyal to Saleh and those held by dissident units led by General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, who rallied to the opposition in March.
Another 17 people, at least five of them civilians, were killed when clashes erupted between Saleh loyalists and pro-opposition tribesmen and army units.
But the pro-democracy activists, who have been demonstrating since January to bring an end to Saleh’s 33-year rule, voiced defiance ahead of Sunday’s march.
“We will continue with our protests... even if thousands of our youth are killed,” said Walid al-Ammari, a spokesman for the protesters. “This is the only way to ensure the fall of the regime,” he told AFP.
General Ahmar released a statement on Sunday calling on the international community to take immediate action to stop the bloodshed and force Saleh to step down.
“We are calling for an urgent intervention by the international community to bring an immediate stop to the massacres by this ignorant murderer,” the dissident commander said.
He said it was time for the international community to “force” Saleh to sign a deal brokered by impoverished Yemen’s wealthy Gulf neighbors under which the president would transfer power to his deputy in return for a promise of immunity from prosecution.
Despite mounting pressure from Western governments as well as the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh has for months refused to sign the deal, even though he has repeatedly promised that he would.
After undergoing prolonged medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for blast wounds he sustained in a June bomb attack on his compound, Saleh has overseen an intensified crackdown on opposition to his rule since his surprise return in September.
The U.N. Security Council is currently drafting a resolution that will call on all sides to stop the violence, and for Saleh to sign the GCC agreement and step down.
But council members say it will not threaten sanctions.
In Sunday’s statement, Ahmar called on all armed groups in the capital, including loyalist troops, armed tribesmen and his own dissident units to withdraw to at least 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital.
But by midday, rival militiamen remained heavily deployed on the streets of the capital.